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Etruscan history: Wikis


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Etruscan history is the written record of Etruscan civilization compiled mainly by Greek and Roman authors. Apart from their inscriptions, from which information mainly of a sociological character can be extracted, the Etruscans left no surviving history of their own, nor is there any mention in the Roman authors that any was ever written. Remnants of Etruscan writings are almost exclusively concerned with religion.



Modern archaeologists have come to suggest that the history of the Etruscans can be traced relatively accurately, based on the examination of burial sites, artifacts, and writing. The descendants of the Villanovan people in Etruria in central Italy, a separate Etruscan culture emerged in the beginning of the 7th century BC, evidenced by the inscriptions in a language similar to Euboean Greek. The burial tombs, some of which had been fabulously decorated, promotes the idea of an aristocratic city-state, with centralized power structures maintaining order and constructing public works, such as irrigation networks, roads, and town defenses.


Etruscan expansion was focused both to the north beyond the Apennines and into Campania. Some small towns in the 6th century BC have disappeared during this time, ostensibly consumed by greater, more powerful neighbors. However, there exists no doubt that the political structure of the Etruscan culture was similar, albeit more aristocratic, to Magna Graecia in the south.

The mining and commerce of metal, especially copper and iron, led to an enrichment of the Etruscans and to the expansion of their influence in the Italian peninsula and the western Mediterranean sea. Here their interests collided with those of the Greeks, especially in the sixth century BC, when Phoceans of Italy founded colonies along the coast of France, Catalonia and Corsica. This led the Etruscans to ally themselves with the Carthaginians, whose interests also collided with the Greeks.

Around 540 BC, the Battle of Alalia led to a new distribution of power in the western Mediterranean Sea. Though the battle had no clear winner, Carthage managed to expand its sphere of influence at the expense of both the Etruscans and the Greeks, and Etruria saw itself relegated to the northern Tyrrhenian Sea.

From the first half of the fifth century they lost their south provinces, the new international political situation meant the beginning of the Etruscan decline. In 480 BC, Etruria's ally Carthage was defeated by a coalition of Magna Graecia cities led by Syracuse. A few years later, in 474, Syracuse's tyrant Hiero defeated the Etruscans at the Battle of Cumae. Etruria's influence over the cities of Latium and Campania weakened, and it was taken over by Romans and Samnites.

In the fourth century they lost their north provinces, Etruria saw a Gallic invasion end its influence over the Po valley and the Adriatic coast. Meanwhile, Rome had started annexing Etruscan cities. At the beginning of the 1st century BC, Rome annexed all the Etruscan territory.

Some Etruscan rulers

The institution of kingship was general. Many names of individual Etruscan kings are recorded, most of them in a historical vacuum, but with enough chronological evidence to show that kingship persisted in Etruscan city-culture long after it had been overthrown by the Greeks and at Rome,[1] where Etruscan kings were long remembered with suspicion and scorn. When the last king was appointed, at Veii, the other Etruscan cities were alienated, permitting the Romans to destroy Veii.[2] It is presumed that Etruscan kings were leaders of religious cult and in warfare. The paraphernalia of Etruscan kingship is familiar because it was inherited at Rome and adopted as symbols of the republican authority wielded by the consuls: the purple robe, the staff or scepter topped with an eagle, the folding cross-framed seat, and most prominent of all, the fasces carried by a magistrate, which preceded the king in public appearances.[3]

The tradition by which the Etruscan cities could come together under a single leader was the annual council held at the sacred grove of the Fanum Voltumnae, the precise site of which has exercised scholars since the Renaissance. In times of no emergency, the position of praetor Etruriae, as Roman inscriptions express it, was no doubt largely ceremonial and concerned with cultus.

  • Osiniu (at Clusium) probably early 1100s BC
  • Mezentius fl. c. 1100 ? BC
  • Lausus (at Caere)
  • Tyrsenos
  • Velsu fl. 8th century
  • Larthia (at Caere)
  • Arimnestos (at Arimnus)
  • Lars Porsena (at Clusium) fl. late 6th century BC
  • Thefarie Velianas (at Caere) late 500s–early 400s BC, known from his temple dedication recorded on the Pyrgi Tablets
  • Aruns (at Clusium) fl. c. 500 BC
  • Volumnius (at Veii) mid 400s–437 BC
  • Lars Tolumnius (at Veii) late 400s–428 BC
  • Etruscan kings of Rome: Lucius Tarquinius Priscus (616–579), Servius Tullius (578–535), Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (535–510/509) BC


  1. ^ Graeme Barker and Tom Rasmussen, The Etruscans, 1998:87ff.
  2. ^ This is the interpretation given by Livy (v.1.3).
  3. ^ Barker and Rasmussen 1998:89.


T.W. Potter, Roman Italy



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